Alachua County Commission adds six weeks of paid parental leave for employees
August 8, 2023
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the August 8 Alachua County Commission meeting, the board voted to provide six weeks of paid parental leave to employees and left open the possibility of increasing that in the future.
The idea was developed by a group of County employees who recently completed the Florida Certified Public Manager program and was presented by Tourism Development Manager Jessica Hurov.
The County currently does not have a paid parental leave policy, and they are finding that potential employees are looking for “social benefits” such as paid leave to care for family members. The policy would apply to all eligible employees within six months of giving birth, adopting, or fostering a child.
Comparisons with other employers
Looking at other local employers, the group found that UF offers up to eight weeks of paid leave, the City of Gainesville offers up to 12 weeks of paid leave once an employee has been there for 12 months, and the City of Newberry offers six weeks of paid leave for the primary caregiver and two weeks for the secondary caregiver once the employee has been there for 12 months. Other cities in Florida offer from four weeks to 10 weeks of paid parental leave, with most requiring 12 months of employment prior to taking leave.
Hurov said paid parental leave allows employees to care for their families while maintaining their job security and that research shows it improves health outcomes for parents and children. It also improves the likelihood that parents will return to the workforce at the conclusion of their leave.
Cost highest for Fire Rescue
For most departments, this would be a “soft cost” because the employee’s pay is already budgeted, but in some departments, like Fire Rescue, the employee must be replaced on their shifts, adding a “hard cost,” possibly at overtime or other special pay rates. The benefit would need to be bargained for departments that have union employees.
The group recommended providing six weeks of paid parental leave for all eligible employees; the leave will usually be taken concurrently with Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) unpaid leave (up to 12 weeks), within six months of the arrival of the child.
“I love this. I love everything about it.”
Commissioner Ken Cornell said he had been involved in getting paid parental leave implemented at the company that employed him when he was 25 years old; he said, getting emotional, “Those six weeks are irreplaceable… I love this. I love everything about it.”
Commissioner Mary Alford said she had been shocked to learn the County didn’t already offer paid parental leave: “I just expected, as forward-thinking as our County is, that this would have been something that we already had.” Alford asked how the County would handle families that get multiple new foster children in a year, and the answer was that the nuts and bolts of the procedure have not been hammered out yet, but most employers limit the leave to once in a calendar year.
Chair Anna Prizzia asked why the group was recommending six weeks because “the research that I look at, again, it’s sort of like the more time you have to bond with your kid, the better.” The answer was that six weeks is “in the middle” of the other cities and counties. The annual cost to the County for a six-week parental leave policy is estimated at $242,000. Prizzia suggested the motion call for “at least six weeks” of parental leave so staff can increase it in the future without having to come back to the board.
“It’s kind of a cultural shift”
Cornell suggested making it six weeks but asking staff to come back in 18-24 months, once the financial impact is better understood, “and see if we need to kind of move it up to maybe eight or 10 or whatever the standard is. I think this is not only obviously good for those involved, it’s kind of a cultural shift… It may become a real competitive advantage.”
Cornell made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation of six weeks of paid parental leave and ask staff to bring back analysis for the board to consider in 18 to 24 months. Alford seconded the motion.
The motion passed unanimously.
After the vote, Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler asked whether the policy covers sick parents, and the answer was that this policy focuses on new children, but employees can use FMLA (unpaid) and any accrued leave they have to care for other family members.
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